Police apprehended the three teenage boys, their pockets bulging with coins, close to South Seminole Heights shortly before dawn.
The youngest was 16. His haul from a nighttime spree of stealing from cars was $4.44 in change, a glove, a flashlight, a hoodie and wireless headphones.
The boy was taken to a juvenile detention center. Make sure he goes to school and does not sneak out at night, police told his mother.
But under a Tampa police initiative, officers also notified the management of Robles Park Village, the public housing complex where he lived.
His entire family lost their home.
Since 2013, the Tampa Police Department has taken a hands-on role at more than 100 apartment communities, sending notices to landlords when their tenants are arrested or stopped by officers and encouraging their eviction.
The program, known as Crime-Free Multi Housing, was marketed to landlords as a way to keep violent crime and drug and gang activity off their properties.
Police pledged to create a database of “documented violent offenders, gang members or career criminals involved in your community.” It alerted landlords to tenants arrested for armed robbery and drug dealing.
But the program also swept up more than 100 people who were arrested for misdemeanors — and dozens more whose charges were later dropped, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.
Tenants were reported to their landlord for matters as small as shoplifting; two were reported for driving with a suspended license. Entire families lost their homes after the arrest of a child or a relative who didn’t live with them.
And roughly 90 percent of the 1,100 people flagged by the program were Black, police records show. That’s despite Black residents making up only 54 percent of all arrests in Tampa over the past eight years.
The Times first approached the Tampa police about the program in 2017. Since then, the department has operated the program less aggressively, sending fewer letters to landlords and toning down wording that instructed landlords to take action. But police are continuing to report tenants to their landlords.
Mayor Jane Castor, who launched the initiative when she was police chief, remains bullish about the program. She said it has significantly reduced crime rates in tough-to-police neighborhoods, improving the quality of life for lawful tenants. That includes a 39 percent drop in serious crime reports at Robles Park, police said.
“In some of the lower-income complexes, they were just like the O.K. Corral,” Castor said. “People were hostages in their apartments and couldn’t let their kids out to play.”
Police officials said they had no say in whether a tenant was evicted — they were just sharing information.
“I don’t think that the landlords are evicting somebody based on a notice of arrest,” Castor said.
The police department’s biggest landlord partner was the Tampa Housing Authority, which provides housing to some of the city’s lowest income families. It received roughly one-quarter of the notices.
Bill Jackson, the authority’s director of public safety, said that his agency supports the program — and that he wasn’t concerned that people were evicted even when the State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute.
That happens sometimes because those who are arrested turn informant, he said, adding that judges issue an eviction only if they are satisfied there are grounds. The authority conducts its own investigation, too, he said.
“We don’t need a conviction,” Jackson said. “We just need reasonable suspicion.”
National experts, however, said the city’s program violates federal housing law and noted that the ACLU is suing similar programs in other cities.
“This is an example of expansive police power going under the radar,” saidDeborah Archer, a professor at New York University School of Law and faculty director of the school’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. “We shouldn’t be attaching these kinds of consequences to arrests.”
This infuriates me. You get kicked out of your home for a misdemeanor, or even being charged with one? Jesus hell, the Justice Department and HUD need to come down on Tampa like an asteroid and clear the entire place out.
Screw these assholes.